DULUTH - Not too surprisingly, the Gwinnett Gladiators and Florida Everblades needed a shootout to decide a winner on Saturday.
A gritty, grinding game played out over 65 minutes with neither team willing to concede defeat and - not too surprisingly - the Gladiators lost in the shootout. Gwinnett is winless in all six of its previous shootouts this season. Florida, which picked up a point in the two-game set at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, scored on its first three shots and Phil Aucoin sealed the deal on the fifth attempt.
The Gladiators, who lead Florida in the division standings by nine points now, eked out a tight 3-2 win on Friday and salvaged a point in front of a loud crowd of 7,412.
"To get three out of four (points) at home, under the circumstances, I'm fine with that," said Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle. "It was two good teams going at it."
The ECHL South Division's top two teams meet again next weekend for back-to-back games in Florida.
Trading goals, the teams were tied 1-1 after the first period and settled in to a more defensive mind-set.
"We're going to have to do that (this weekend)," Pyle said of the playing style. "We're losing (Milan Gajic), who's getting called up tomorrow (to Providence of the American Hockey League). So we're going to have to call Chicago and beg pretty much."
Scott Kelman opened the scoring on a wrap-around that trickled slowly under Kevin Nastiuk at 5:24 and Dustin Johner evened things by drilling the near-side top corner from 35 feet out at 12:50.
The tension built through a scoreless second period as each team tried not to be the first to make a mistake.
The Gladiators had a great chance to retake the lead with less than two minutes remaining in the second when Matt York had a low, backhanded rebound hit the post.
Gwinnett, with the league's best power-play unit, was shut out on its first four advantages and had almost two full minutes of 5-on-4 to start the third period. But that also yielded no results.
Steve Saviano dealt the Gwinnett Gladiators a harsh blow, scoring the go-ahead goal with just over 10 minutes left in regulation.
Sprung on a tremendous break-out pass by Martin Lojek, Saviano walked in alone on Gladiators' goalie Adam Berkhoel. Berkhoel made a valiant stab at the poke check, but Saviano kept control of the puck and lifted a high shot over the sprawling netminder at 9:26.
As precious time continued to tick away, however, Gwinnett captain Cam Brown swept around behind the Florida net and found Derek Nesbitt with a surgically-placed, cross-crease pass. Nesbitt hammered the puck home to tie the game 2-2 with less than five minutes left and that sent it to overtime.
"Our power-play didn't get the job done," Pyle said. "We had chances, we just didn't get it done. It was one of those games where when they got the second one, I thought it was pretty much over. But we always find a way to come back."